cover image Graveyard Working

Graveyard Working

Gerald Duff, Author Baskerville Publishers $18 (185p) ISBN 978-1-880909-15-7

In his second novel, Texas-born academic and award-winning poet Duff ( Indian Giver ) evokes the bleak surrealities of Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show as he details the long-festering personal resentments and barren East Texas landscape that define existence for elderly sisters Myrtle Shackleford and MayBelle Holt. Myrtle's delusions of nightly visits by extraterrestrials prompt her three children to conspire with closet drinker MayBelle to have her committed. Meanwhile, Myrtle's eldest son, Baptist minister B. J. Shackleford, plans to sell ``Christian Guard Dogs'' to protect their owners from Mexicans and ``doped-up'' hippies; his brother Bubba's septic tank business is doomed by the unrelenting advance of the city sewer line; and for 14 years, baby sister Avalene, valedictorian of her high school class, has been the Friday afternoon quickie for her boss, a lumberyard tycoon. Highlighted by a long-anticipated preach-off between the college-educated Rev. B.J. and an unschooled lay preacher, the story focuses on the August Sunday ``graveyard working'' (cleaning up) and dinner at the local cemetery, the year's big social event, which ends in gruesome tragedy. Occasionally funny and at odd moments poignant, this dark comedy is regrettably cliched and self-conscious as it conveys the sad and tawdry lives of its eccentric characters. (Apr.)